Organic and Biodynamic | What's the difference?

People tending to the vines of a vineyard in France

How many times have you seen the label "Organic" or Biodynamic" and wondered what the difference is between the two?

Broadly speaking, both practices are focused on ensuring that the vines are grown completely free from chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and GMOs. Performed with the primary aim of ensuring viticulture is contributing to the natural environment, forming an ecosystem where flora and fauna can flourish, and healthy vines grow.

In Organic and Biodynamic wine making the maximum sulphur levels are measured and what's universally allowed is about half of what is used in conventional wines. Sulphur levels are capped at 100 ppm for red wine and 150 ppm for white and rose wine. (Except in exceptional circumstances where there is poor fruit quality due to climatic conditions, in which the sulphur dioxide levels may be increased slightly.)

Overall, all ingredients going into these wines, including yeast, must be certified organic. 

How Biodynamic Differs

Biodynamic practices are the step above organic with a specific governing practice agreed upon across the world. In a biodynamic farm everything is considered living and at the heart of the farm is the soil. Biodynamic farming was born from a series of agricultural lectures in 1924 given by Austrian philosopher and social reformer, Rudolf Steiner.

In the early 1900s, a highly mechanistic view of nature was becoming prevalent in agriculture, leading to the development and use of synthetically produced fertilizers and pesticides. As they adopted these chemical inputs, farmers quickly began noticing declines in the health and fertility of their soil, plants, and animals. In 1924 in a small town in what is now Poland, Steiner held an "Agriculture course" with many such concerned farmers: this course, and subsequent book, became the basis of the biodynamic method.

There are several elements to the practice proposed by Steiner including a method of farming based around a specific astronomic calendar. Each day coincides with one of the elements: earth, fire, air and water. Further split up into specific aspects of farming such as; fruit days (best for grape harvesting), root days (pruning of vines), leaf days (watering) and flower days (where the vineyard should not be touched).

The winemakers don’t just rely upon this calendar, the use of fertilization preparation is a primary element instilled by Steiner too. One technique used in biodynamic farming involves cow horns. It is produced by burying cow manure in a cow horn over winter, digging it up in spring, stirring the resultant rich humus in water to dynamise it and spraying it over your vineyard. This and other preparations are used to enhance the vitality of plants, soils, composts and livestock.

As a whole ‘Bio’ means ‘life’ and dynamic means ‘energy’. Biodynamics is truly holistic and aims to harmonise the farm to produce a healthy closed system of biodiversity. 

Cutting down grapes by hand, using organic supplements to spray onto the vines to protect and help them grow.

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